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Think. Discuss. Act. Racism

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Review: More Than Equals

Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. (1993). More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Summary

(Download More Than Equals overview as a PDF)

Current black/white racial tensions in America have their root in “four hundred years of slavery, forced segregation and /files/Images/Book covers/More than Equals.jpgdiscrimination” (68). This long legacy of injustice creates a profound necessity for deep reconciliation.  While many American leaders, including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., have lead movements to ensure the civil rights of those who for so long were left out of the Bill of Rights, few have attempted anything close to actual reconciliation.  The methods of civil rights leaders and the equally poor options of  black separation – all black schools, churches, neighborhoods or a federally funded state for blacks as restitution for slavery – and white flight – whites moving out of the neighborhood as soon as blacks move in – have all left us without actual reconciliation.  What is most sad of all is that the Christian church has largely ignored the problem.  The reasons for this are legion, but in More Than Equals, two Christian leaders share their story of the search for reconciliation and what they learned along the way.

Spencer Perkins (black) and Chris Rice (white) shared life and ministry together for many years, promoting “racial healing for the sake of the Gospel” (subtitle).  These two leaders purposed in More Than Equals to create a model whereby Christians could “build  racial bridges through interracial church partnerships” (221)  However, before such bridges could be built, it was their firm conviction that there were three things like-minded believers had first to accomplish.  They believed that firstly  “both  white and black Christians must admit that a separation exists, that our relationship is uneasy and that it misrepresents what God intended for his people.”  Secondly, “we must submit to one another, black and white, by building loving relationships across racial barriers,” and thirdly that “deep and lasting reconciliation will be realized only as we commit ourselves to an intentional lifestyle of loving our racially different neighbors as ourselves” (18,19).

Spencer Perkins grew up a black “child of race” where he recalls the most typical topics of conversation were “integration, voting, racism, segregation and “white folks” (32).  Because his father was a Christian minister, he was regularly taught that Christ was the only way to racial reconciliation.  These words challenged him most after his father was beaten nearly to death by policemen and for a short while struggled with preferring the methods promoted by Malcolm X.  He had hoped that his dad would see that “the gospel and Christianity were for white folks” (43).  These beliefs didn’t last long, however, and he turned his life toward the Christian struggle for reconciliation.  Spencer’s perspectives in More Than Equals are an invaluable source for whites as they seek to understand the black person’s life in white America.

Chris Rice grew up in a Christian family as a missionary kid in Korea.  This enabled him to grow in a cross-cultural environment which predisposed him to care about racial unity.  He was, however, unprepared for the issues which would confront him as he struggled to understand and grow in an environment of reconciliation.  Chris’s perspectives in More Than Equals will enable any white Christian to honestly assess their own “blinders” in an effort to see their own misperceptions of black Americans.

The structure of More Than Equals, admit, submit and commit, takes the reader systematically through a process leading to a commitment as the Christian community toward reconciliation.  It is the belief of Perkins and Rice that these three steps must be undertaken in order and therefore the chapters for each section lead inexorably to this end:

Admit: 

  • “Race Fatigue” – the problem,
  • “Foot Soldier” – Spencer’s history,
  • “At The Crossroads” – Chris’s history,
  • “Who Is My Neighbor” – Samaritan parable,
  • “White Blinders” – white misperceptions of the issues,
  • “School Daze” – Spencer’s experience with a white friend,
  • “Black Residue” – anger, blame, self-doubt,
  • “Silence Gives Consent” – white America’s denial of the problem, and
  • “A Little Respect” – the starting point: dignity.

Submit:

  • “From Anger and Guilt to Passion and Conviction” – Voice of Calvary’s Reconciliation Meetings,
  • “Weapons for the Battle” – weapons of Nehemiah: purity, passionate purpose and perseverance,
  • “Acts: A Reconciliation Story” – exposition of Acts 6.

Commit:

  • “The Character of a Reconciler” – exposition of Acts 15,
  • “White Fear” – what white’s actually fear from blacks
  • “More Than Skin Deep” – black and white seeing each other’s hearts,
  • “Soul Mates” – Spencer and his white wife Nancy,
  • “Unlikely Comrades” – Spencer and Chris,
  • “Kingdom Choices” – thinking and living Christianly for the sake of reconciliation,
  • “Friends and Yokefellows” – Spencer and Chris.

Throughout this work, the authors argue that the place for reconciliation between the races is the church and in no other venue.  It is the church which has been given the ministry of reconciliation and it is only the church which had the power of God at it’s disposal for such an undertaking.  Mention the main points and/or arguments, principles, significant information, and illustrations on which the book focuses.  For the gospel to really matter in this fallen world, we must be reconciled to each other and not simply to God.  Without such reconciliation, we lose and the gospel loses.  Furthermore, the attempt to love God without loving our neighbor is not biblical love.  Perkins and Rice enjoin us at every turn to love God by loving our neighbor – something we cannot do if we do not pursue reconciliation.  It is their strong belief that this can only occur when there is mutual respect and an assumption of equality from the outset.  Without respect there can be not reconciliation.  Finally, they argue that we must use the weapon of forgiveness if we are to be able to admit where we are, submit to each other and commit to curing this ill – something which will require a change from all of us equally.

After reading More Than Equals, the reader will be more convinced than ever that the only true road to racial reconciliation is the one that leads to Calvary, where our sin was nailed to the cross and where the ministry of reconciliation was given to mankind.  Perkins and Rice succeed at every step in convincing the reader that not only are these steps vital and must be taken in order, but that if we will only admit, submit and commit, we will in fact succeed in this vital ministry of the gospel.  Their writings are clear, convincing, engaging and their vision is captivating.  No reader can come away from their story of faithfulness and love with anything but optimism and hope for their own ability to help be part of this grand solution.

Quotations

On the Limits of the Civl Rights Movement:

Someone forgot to tell us along the way that you can’t legislate people’s attitudes.  Changing laws will not change hearts.  The civil rights movement has run its course, and we’ve gotten just about all you can expect to get from a political movement. (25)

On Our Witness:

A gospel that reconciles people only to God and not to each other cannot be the true gospel of Jesus Christ. (44)

Separating loving God from loving your neighbor has cost white Christians a valuable witness to the power of God, at least to the black community. (59)

Vinay Samuel, Indian church leader, at Lausanne II Conference on World Evangelism: “One sign and wonder, biblically speaking, that alone can prove the power of the gospel is that of reconciliation. (64)

On Barriers:

Some whites are afraid that if blacks ever acquire the same power that whites have, we will do to them what they did to us.  That blacks would actually make the lives of whites miserable for the sake of revenge is highly doubtful.  Most black leaders urge blacks to cultivate positive relationships with whites. (183)

Black people suspect that when the rubber meets the road, we’ll retreat to our benefits and options.  When the racial issue gets personally costly, white folks will go their own way.  Because of this fear of getting burned, blacks avoid making themselves vulnerable. (191)

Given a choice between initiating a conversation with a black or white person, most of us will choose our racial cousin.  We prefer to be comfortable, so we tend to mold our Christianity to fit the way we already live. (218)

On Our Shared Responsibility:

It is only when we feel a friend’s pain by making “his” problem “our” problem that we will harness the necessary passion to act. (32)

When racial crisis looms, as I began to learn, the real test of our resolve is not to understand the intensity of the anger, but what quality of relationships we work toward in the aftermath. (55)

Unlike integration, reconciliation requires mutual respect and always assumes equality.  It’s next to impossible to be reconciled to someone you do not respect, or who seems not to respect you. (119)

Without this spiritual weapon of forgiveness, every disappointment will tempt us to give up and retreat.  With it, we can move forward, allowing God to turn each disappointment into an opportunity to become the pure, refined gold he desires us to be. (146)

The old fight for racial equality did not require any give-and-take.  It demanded change only from whites.  But reconciliation is more costly; it demands change of us all. (237)

On Christian Potential:

Ironically, while the church falls far short of God’s highest purpose for black and white, it is the followers of Christ who are the greatest hope for reconciliation. (149)

Lem Tucker, late president of VOC Ministries: “He who has the greatest truth must also have the greatest love, which is the greatest proof.” (197)

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are some of the positive results of true reconciliation?
  2. How do the three major steps of reconciliation, admit, submit and commit lead toward true reconciliation?
  3. What are some of the reasons true reconciliation cannot occur outside the church?
  4. What steps might you take to begin the process of “building racial bridges?”
  5. What barriers exist in your own heart and mind to beginning such a process?
  6. Given the exciting nature of such an endeavor, discuss one reason why you would not want to begin this process immediately.

Implications

  1. Without true reconciliation, the Christian church is showing itself to be disobedient to God and unloving to its neighbor.  True reconciliation will provide a powerful witness to the gospel of Christ.
  2. If the Christian community, including its parents, pastors and young leaders will commit to the Christian ideals of reconciliation and racial healing, our communities will look like the communities in the heart and mind of God for us.
  3. By following the three part methodology of More Than Equals, those with the authority to bring the Christian family to unity will find a workable solution to an unworkable problem.

Scott Braithwaite
© 2017 CYS

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